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Panthers piecing together a secondary before facing the NFL's top offense

CJ Henderson

CHARLOTTE – This week's final injury report wasn't kind to the Panthers' defense.

As a result, they'll head to Miami with one-fourth of the starting secondary. Of the four that started in Week 1, only cornerback Donte Jackson will start Week 6 – and he's coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him in Week 5 against Detroit.

How did they get here? Veteran safety Vonn Bell was ruled out after sustaining a quadriceps injury in practice this week. Fellow safety Xavier Woods has been out since leaving the Seattle game in Week 3 with a hamstring injury, while cornerback Jaycee Horn remains on injured reserve from a hamstring injury suffered in Week 1 at Atlanta.

"(It's) very impactful," Jackson said when asked about the impact of injuries on the Panthers' roster. "It's football; you can't plan for injury, and it's the sucky part about the game we love. The only thing you can do really is just support those guys on their journey. I've been in the training room a lot, so that's really what it takes. As long as you've got your guys holding it down and having your back, it always helps get you through that."

Donte Jackson, CJ Henderson

CJ Henderson has had time to tally up snaps in Horn's place, and he'll continue to play in the defensive backfield as one of the most utilized players this season. 

The Miami offense they're facing this week is top of the NFL in practically all key categories, including points, yards, passing yards, and rushing yards. They have the NFL's most productive quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, the league's most prolific receiver in Tyreek Hill, and they also boast productive wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and running back Raheem Mostert. 

"They're a high-powered offense," Henderson said. "And they've got a lot of weapons on offense. So that'll be a big challenge for us on defense. It'll be fun for us.

"(We're focused on) keying in on formations, and where they're aligned on the field when they get the ball." 

At safety, the Panthers will bring out special teams ace Sam Franklin Jr. for another week, as he has filled in for Woods since Week 3. 

They're also calling up Matthias Farley, a practice squad signing from mid-September, who was elevated for Week 4 against the Vikings and played only special teams.

Matthias Farley

Head coach Frank Reich has a history with Farley, the 31-year-old Charlotte native who has been in the league since 2016. The two were together in 2018 with the Colts, and Reich has plenty of good things to say about him.

"Very smart, very competitive, very instinctive; he's the guy who you could call him up off the street and give him the playbook, and in 24 hours, he's going to have it mastered," Reich said. "He's played a lot of football, been in a lot of different systems. So he's adapted well and learned our system very quickly."

Reich also said they could see some more defensive snaps for rookie safety Jammie Robinson while the group adjusts to playing without one of their most important pieces – Bell, the defensive signal-caller.

"Obviously, losing a player like Vonn Bell is a big deal," Reich said. "His leadership, his playmaking ability. (I'm) confident in our depth. Sam Franklin will continue to be back there, and Matthias Farley will start at the other position. And then Jammie Robinson will be a depth player there as well. So those guys have been getting lots of reps, ready to go."

Veteran backup corner Troy Hill is still healthy and will likely see some snaps on Sunday, too.

Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said trusting the scheme has been imperative as the Panthers have dealt with injuries from all angles – obviously in the back end, but across the unit as well.

They're bringing what they have to Miami, and they'll work with who is available.

"That's always the name of the game, not just in the back end, but all the way across the deal," Evero said. "You've got to understand where you're strong; you've got to understand where you're weak. You've got to understand who you want to have the hard downs, who we are trying to support and give help to. That's always part of how we evaluate our schemes."

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.

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